|Volume 18 Number 12 December 2016||
Philip’s work in Samaria recorded in Acts 8:4-25 was a response to the intense suffering placed upon Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3). Persecution caused Philip and other Christians to be “scattered abroad,” and they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 4:1). Often times, when considering Philip’s work in Samaria, one focuses solely on the Gospel’s influence on a man “called Simon” who “used sorcery” (Acts 8:9). Yet, the result of Philip’s work was much greater than the conversion of one man; he converted a city that had been wallowing in false teaching.
Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recorded that all of Samaria “gave heed” to Simon (Acts 8:9). In so doing, the Samaritans misplaced their attention. Literally, “they kept on giving attention to” the false teaching of Simon. The Samaritans should have known better; they had once been influenced by a true miracle worker, the Son of God (John 4:40-42). Now they were “paying mind to” a trickster who claimed to be a “great one.” Unfortunately, several in this age have “given heed” to false teaching and have fallen away. False teaching, when given an opening, has a way of chipping away at one’s legitimate faith. It is unwise to think for even a moment that one can ingest unsound doctrine and be healthier. It defies common sense and Gospel teaching (2 Timothy 2:14-17).
It is apparent that the Samaritans had also misplaced their assurance. They said, from the least to the greatest, that Simon “is the great power of God.” The word translated “power” can also be translated “mighty one” (Matthew 26:64). The Samaritans believed in one God, but they appear to have viewed Simon as God’s representative endowed with His power. It is true, even today, that some misplace their assurance when it comes to their spiritual well-being. They may put all of their confidence in what their parents, pastors or friends have told them and never consider what the Bible actually teaches. The reality is that one will be judged by the Word of God (John 12:48), the true power of God (Romans 1:16), and one must be fully committed to determining the truth found therein and following it (Acts 17:11). Sometimes this means one might need to break rank from their loved one’s false religion because they love Jesus more (Matthew 10:37).
Finally, the Samaritans made a terrible mistake by misplacing their astonishment. It is recorded in Acts 8:11 that Simon “had bewitched them with sorceries” for a long time. The word translated “bewitched” could be translated “astonished.” They were astonished at the fake practices he carried out. God and the devil communicate and influence mankind in a similar way. God communicates and influences mankind by His written Word preached by men (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 1:21), and the devil communicates and influences mankind by the “rudiments of the world” taught by unholy men (Colossians 2:8).
What astonishes you? Is it the Almighty God and His revealed Word (Psalm 19:1, 7-8)? It may be true that you, like the Samaritans, are more astonished by the permissive teachings of the world perpetuated by false teachers (1 John 2:15-17). Sin is enchanting and can blind one from the truth of one’s spiritual condition (Revelation 3:17).
W. Terry Varner
Every November our nation celebrates Thanksgiving Day. Such a celebration ought to be daily rather than a “day.” We ought to be provoked to great thought. We have so much for which to be thankful in America, but we have much more for which to be thankful in our spiritual blessings possessed in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
Perhaps, it would be good for each of us to consider the words of David, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me?” (Psalm 116:12). David’s question is not commonly asked even by those of us who are God’s children, though to our shame. More commonly asked are questions like: “How can I find a better job?” “How can I have more fun?” “How can I make more money?” “How can I live longer and be happier?”
Again, perhaps, the reason we do not often ask the question David asked in Psalm 116:12 is that we may be crediting our achievements wrongfully and successes in lives to our own credit, failing to realize our abundant blessings are from our God and not from our own doing. Only when we understand God as the Giver of gifts shall we turn our minds in thanksgiving to Him. Often when one of our peers does us a favor we respond, “What can I do for you in return?” Yet, living on God’s footstool and enjoying His offer of salvation and all of its attendant blessings, breathing His air, drinking His water, etc., we often fail to thank Him. This is all to our shame, especially as Christians!
The life of Fanny Crosby was filled with interesting and humbling thoughts for each of us. She wrote over 8,000 hymns and many of these our favorites: “To God Be the Glory,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Redeemed,” “All The Way the Savior Leads Me.” She did this while she was blind. Her life story is interesting. She was only six weeks old when a doctor made a careless medical error which resulted in her blindness. The doctor never forgave himself and moved from the area to practice medicine.
Fanny Crosby lived to be 95 years of age. Her experience with blindness did not turn her bitter or cause her to wallow in self-pity. (Neither did it cause her parents to file litigation, which would be an immediate and normal response today.) As she wrote her life story, she spoke of the doctor and his mistake with the following words: “If I could meet him now, I would say, ‘Thank you, thank you’ – over and over again – for making me blind.” Turning her thoughts to our merciful God, she thanked Him for a life of blindness. She accepted her blindness as a gift and claimed that she probably would never have written 1000s of hymns. Her attitude was amazing. Do you really feel like complaining about your state of life? It is my firm belief that many sins of mankind, and therefore of our society, past and present, can be traced to the oft-undetected root of ingratitude or lack of gratitude. The “attitude of gratitude” is something all of us desperately need to cultivate and mature in our hearts and lives. The presence of gratitude results in a host of related blessings. Likewise, the absence of gratitude has profound lethal repercussions.
John Henry Jowett said, “Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” Gratitude as a vaccine can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled attitude. Gratitude as an antitoxin can prevent the disastrous effects of certain attitudinal poisons. Gratitude as an antiseptic can soothe by destroying the poison of grumbling, murmuring and complaining.